Parshas Bechukosai: Are You Doing or Accomplishing? (Hint: It’s Not What You Think)
What type of animal would you bring as an offering to G-d?
At the beginning of time, Cain, son of Adam, brought before G-d his most inferior produce, while his brother Abel brought the best of his flock. Cain’s offering was rejected and, as G-d told him, “If you improve, you will be forgiven.”
In Parshas Re’eh, we are told that when one brings an offering, he must bring the “choicest” of what he has. And when the Jews returned to Jerusalem for the rebuilding of the Second Temple, some were bringing blemished animals to the Temple as offerings. The prophet Malachi exhorted them, “Bring that, please, as a gift for your governor! Will he be pleased with you or show you favor?!”
Let us consider, then, a teaching in this week’s Torah portion, Parshas Bechukosai: the commandment of maaser beheimah, tithing animals.
Basically, when the Temple stood, three times each year a farmer would gather all his newly-born sheep- and, separately, his cattle- into a corral. He made an opening wide enough for only one animal to pass through at a time. As the young animals walked out, he would count them from one to ten, marking each tenth one with a red streak. Those “tenth” animals were the tithe. These tithes were brought to the Temple and the meat belonged to its owner, who would share it with whomever he pleased, but it was allowed to be eaten only in Jerusalem.
The Torah cautions us, however, that when counting his flock: “He shall not differentiate good and bad.” Whichever animal emerges as the tenth, good or bad, is to be the tithe. Don’t try to rig the system.
While we understand why one may not set it up that a blemished or low-quality animal emerge as tenth, why would it not be meritorious to arrange for a better animal to emerge? And why is this so different from all other offerings?
One lesson here is that while we must put our best effort forward, we must recognize that in fact, it is G-d Who runs the world.
When we choose an offering to bring, we must extend ourselves to the best of our ability to honor G-d. To do less would be an affront to Him.
But it is not we who choose will animal will emerge as tenth. In fact, by allowing things to take place “on their own,” without our intervention, we are acknowledging that it is really G-d Who is in charge, not us. It is He Who chose which animal should be sanctified; for us to change that plan would be an attempt to subvert His Will and would be tantamount to denying His control.
Rabbi Yisrael Lipkin of Salant (1810-1883), the founder of the Mussar movement, is quoted as having said, “Mir darfen tu’en, nit oiftu’en, We must act, not accomplish.”
In every area of life, we are part of a Divine Plan. Our responsibility is to try our best. Once we have done that, we have succeeded and will be rewarded. We then pray to the One Above, Who will determine whether our efforts will bear fruit.
When the Jews completed the construction of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle in the Wilderness, following the hundreds of detailed specifications G-d had instructed, His Presence still did not rest there. It was only after Moses invoked the blessing/prayer: “May the pleasantness of my Lord, our G-d, be upon us, our handiwork, may He establish for us; our handiwork, may He establish. May it be His Will that the Divine Presence rest in the product of your handiwork,” that G-d’s Presence appeared.
Tithing our animals teaches us that we must recognize G-d’s Hand in every endeavor. We must do ours and we can then turn to Him and pray for our goals to be achieved.
May He, indeed, bless all our efforts with complete success.
Rabbi Avrohom Biderman